Enforcement: Justice’s jab at DEP undercuts agency
During his State of the State speech last week, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice bemoaned the appearance of Department of Environmental Protection inspectors, complaining “they show up with a T-shirt on and an old pair of jeans and they maybe haven’t shaved in forever. And they got a badge in their pocket.” But more than simply a comment on fashion, Justice’s remark was designed to undercut an agency he says serves as nothing but an obstacle to business.
“So many times our regulatory agencies absolutely, no matter what on earth we try to do, they’re there to tell you ‘no,'” he said. “They’re not there to tell us ‘no.'”
Federal regulators timed the release of results from a three-year investigation, almost as a reaction to that remark. It appears the federal government does not believe the DEP says “no” often enough.
Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation Enforcement investigators determined the DEP has exhibited a lack of proper water quality monitoring, poor oversight of reclamation standards and inconsistent efforts to ensure mountaintop removal does not cause localized flooding, among other concerns.
Mine inspectors are allegedly not collecting water pollution samples, even at mines that have been repeat violators.
After Justice’s jab, Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association and Charlie Burd, president of the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association joined other industry leaders in distancing themselves from the remarks. Most of them described cooperative, professional relationships with a DEP that, to use Burd’s words, “implemented fairly the rules that apply to our agency.”
But most of them are not in the position Justice was in last year, when his Southern Coal Corp. was dinged for $900,000 in fines and $5 million for environmental improvement measures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; after the DEP had also taken state-level enforcement action against the company.
Justice may regret telling a group of inspectors and an agency that has clearly tried to be more flexible than their federal counterparts that he wants them whipped into shape.
Enforcement of laws that keep our environment and our workers as safe as possible is as necessary as DEP’s responsibility to be a partner, rather than an obstacle. Certainly, Justice’s words gave them little incentive to, as he is hoping, stand aside and say “we’re going to try with all in us to do what you want to do.”